ARNAUDVILLE — Many cyclists arrived Sunday shortly after dawn to unload lightweight racing bikes and contemplate their impending attack on the flat St. Landry Parish terrain.
Hours later, smeared with bug spray and sunscreen, the riders gently glided past the starting line along languid Bayou Fuselier, ready to battle a breezeless Acadiana morning smothered in July heat.
Engaging roads with near sea level elevations, the 200 or so riders in the annual La Vuelta d’Acadiana road race weren’t challenged by the steep climbs typical of so many competitive races.
Instead, most riders considered the course a more gentle, scenic experience at an average speed of 25 mph.
An exploding rear tire during pre-start greeted one rider as soon as he placed his bike on the ground.
“So that’s what kind of day it’s going to be?” he asked.
For others, like veteran rider Mike Fish, 55, of Thibodaux, the bucolic roadways west of Arnaudville offered another step on the comeback trail.
The topography was something Fish found attractive, considering his physical condition.
“This is sort of my comeback year. I can’t run, so I’ve gone with a bike. This is a good, flat race, without many hills,” Fish said as he prepared his pre-race warm up.
Fish’s experience contrasted that of 26-year-old Mark LeBlanc, of Lafayette, who said he’s in his first year of competitive road racing.
La Vuelta was a natural fit for his racing level, LeBlanc said.
“This is my first time competing in this race. It’s local and not too far for me to drive. It’s a pretty fun course, challenging but quiet,” LeBlanc said.
The two-day event, sanctioned by USA Cycling, enabled the riders to obtain valuable competitive points used to rank them among other riders.
La Vuelta officials said the race concluded with only a few bicycle accidents, none of which required serious attention.
On Saturday, La Vuelta launched with a short ride through Lafayette city streets.
Then on Sunday, it was a different scene that shifted to racing the rural roads, with times gauged electronically.
Sunday’s riders were divided by experience and ability. There were 13 in the women’s category, along with one junior rider.
Most were assigned to a novice division, while other participants were considered more expert competitors, expected to have faster times.
The less-seasoned riders covered a shorter 30-mile length, while more advanced racers rode as many as 50 and 65 miles.
Some found comfort in numbers.
The Eastbank Cyclery team brought 10 riders attired in identical black outfits trimmed in lime green.
“We’ll probably all stick together,” Robert Rutter, 38, said.
Girard Melancon, who rode with Eastbank, said Sunday’s team included mostly first-time riders who would appreciate the benefit of riding as a group.
Mark Barnett, 49, of Houston, was among a large Texas contingent. Barnett said he too was attracted by an inviting course.
“It’s the only race I’ve found that’s flat. There’s no uphill finish, like other races. Right now, I’m not strong enough to compete in a 2-mile power climb at the end. I’m new to racing,” Barnett said.
New Orleanian Brian Bourgeois, 48, described a welcoming atmosphere.
“It’s a good course, safe and open. Overall, the conditions are good. I also like it because everyone knows one another,” Bourgeois said.
Stanton Pearson, also of New Orleans, said he enjoys La Vuelta’s rustic panorama, which includes pedaling past sugar cane and soybean fields adjacent to roadways with little traffic.
“This is my fourth year here, and what I’ve always enjoyed is the scenery, which is great. The heat (on Sunday) is something which is tough, but that goes with racing in July in Louisiana,” Pearson said.
Theresa-Anne Sklar, 15 of Natchitoches, is in her second year of racing. Sklar said she came to experience roadways that would allow maximum acceleration.
“From what I’ve heard, it’s an extremely fast course,” said Sklar, who attends St. Mary’s High School.
Sklar’s father, Natchitoches dentist Nick Governale, said he travels to all his daughter’s races, some of which have taken the pair to Georgia and other states.
“I’m always there to support her, accompany her and drive her here and there,” he said.